Hang ups

Arnold Evans

All you need is double-backed sticky tape, and a 10cm square of cardboard which you should spray with glitter. Cut it into the shape of Rudolph's antlers and fix it to your computer mouse. Use a felt-tip pen to add a red nose, and - hey presto - it's Christmas! It might not sound like much, but I am a teleworker and have to do what I can to bring a touch of festive cheer into my solitary life.

When you work alone, the end-of-year office party is a particularly desultory affair. It's not easy to let your hair down when there's only you, and e-mail badinage with far-flung colleagues isn't as good as the real thing, even if you've made the effort to don a paper hat.

That doesn't mean I want you to turn up on my doorstep with your savoury dips and sympathy. I have offered you this little insight into my sad life in much the same spirit as Marley's ghost summoned the spectre of Christmas Future - it's a warning. Everyone is going to be like me if we continue in this headlong rush to prefix normal activities with "tele-". In this brave new world, we'll telework, telebank, teleshop. And what will we do with all that precious time we'll save? We'll telewatch.

In fact, that is exactly how most of us will spend Christmas - although "watch" is probably too strong a verb for so passive an act-ivity. One American psychologist has called it "lucid dreaming in an awake state", but even that seems too glamorous a description for the hours the nation is going to spend slumped in front of the box.

Probably that motley collection of nerds, geeks and propeller-heads who make most of the noise in cyberspace would welcome the prospect of life being reduced to the size of a screen. But they are in a minority. If you spend an hour or two on-line, you'll quickly discover that most contributors to the Web are an earnest bunch who go to the trouble of setting up sites in order to convince you that the whole wide world has more to offer than the World Wide Web ever could.

So if you are concerned that your children (or, indeed, you) are being insidiously conditioned to a future of lucid dreaming in an awake state, insist that the family abandon the television in favour of the computer. If you can find Pounds 100 or so for a modem, now is an ideal time to get on-line because many of the service providers are enticing new customers with free offers. Virgin, for instance, will give you three months for no charge. Microsoft, AOL and Compuserve can only manage a month but that's long enough to ensure that the children have plenty to occupy them until the new year.

And if sitting around a computer screen doesn't seem a festive way for them to spend the holiday, remember that you can always add a touch of Christmas cheer with a red felt-tip and a pair of antlers.

* arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk Virgin 0500 558800 Microsoft 034500 2000 AOL 0171 385 9404 Compuserve 0800 000444

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